Common Word Usage Errors

Most writers mix up a word or two now and then. Some writers mix up a lot of words a lot of the time. In novels that have not been copy-edited, I find a disturbing number of errors and those of word usage are some of the most glaring.

They are also the easiest for the writer to fix and to avoid in the first place.

Here are some examples of words and phrases that are often confused or misused.

I shudder when I see lay and lie misused, but it is such a common error that I have devoted a whole post to it. You can visit it here.

raise, rise

You rise when you get up, but when you lift something else up, you raise it.

The past tense is rose, or if you lifted something you raised it.

loose, lose

A knot could come loose, and then you might lose something you had tied up with it.

breath, breathe

When you take a breath, you breathe.

loath, loathe

You might be loath to do something that you loathe.

peek, peak, pique

Let’s take a peek out the window at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Oh, no, not now. Maybe later. But you have piqued my interest.

But later, she was piqued by his rudeness, and huffed around the house in a fit of pique.

horde, hoard

A horde of people pushed their way towards the speaker.

During the Covid crisis, some people were hoarding toilet paper.

hang, hung

The picture was hung on the wall, but the man was hanged from the gibbet.

ensure, insure

You ensure (make sure) that something happens, but you insure (buy compensation) against losing money in case of an accident.

less, amount, fewer, number

Less and amount are used with quantities that cannot be counted individually, while fewer and number are used for things that can be counted.

There has been less cloud this week, but we have had fewer cloudy days.

A number of people have said that the amount of meat a person eats has a direct effect on their health.

affect, effect

What he said does not affect me directly, but the overall effect of his way of talking is that people like him less for it.

The list of word usage errors is quite long and I may post another list at a later time. For now, this is a start.

Why Hire a Copy Editor?


You have an amazing story to tell. Aunt Mary says, “Why don’t you write a book about it, dear?” So you do, and you rush to self-publish your first book just the way thousands of authors are doing these days.

But, wait!

You may feel you’ve just written the next bestselling novel, but the truth is, most first novels are full of errors.

When you rewrite the first draft (and the second and third, and so on) except for small improvements your work will still have weak sections. You can’t fix something if you don’t know what is wrong. At some point you will need outside help. Even experienced authors benefit from an impartial eye, so that help should not come from your loving Aunt Mary. Support, yes, but writing advice, no. Not unless she’s a successful author herself.

Have you taken the time to go to a writing conference or join a writers’ group? If you have ever had your writing analyzed by an expert, you were most likely shocked by their comments. You had no idea there was still so much to learn about writing. Taking a course in creative writing, joining a local writers’ group, going to writing conferences, and reading some of the many books on writing can teach you techniques for making your novel a success. You will pick up writing tips and learn how to structure a novel.

After you’ve rewritten your novel employing all your newfound knowledge, you may think you are ready to publish. Not so. This is the most dangerous stage, where many writers become impatient and “just want to get it published.”

Take a step back. You have a wonderful plot and you’ve told the story in a way that makes the reader want to turn the pages, but you can ruin it all by publishing before it is ready. Some people say poor editing doesn’t make them stop reading. Does that mean they don’t care about the fine craft of writing? If they will read anything, regardless of quality, perhaps they will write without quality too. Not something worthy of much respect.

Imagine you are going to a job interview. Would you present yourself before the interviewer  with your hair scraggly and unwashed, wearing a beautiful brand new outfit and dirty old sneakers? Would you think it doesn’t matter because you know you’re a great person inside?  I can guarantee you won’t make a good impression. The interviewer will have nothing good to say about you. He is judging you by what he sees.

And so it will be with your book. If you want the readers to love it and recommend it to others, don’t publish it if it hasn’t been cleaned up. And I don’t mean a quick read through by Aunt Mary who declared it the best thing she’d ever read. Even that friend with a college degree who pointed out some grammatical things and a spelling mistake is not going to catch everything. Get your book professionally copy-edited and publish quality work confidently.

If you have not worked at shaping your novel with the help of books, courses, critiquing groups, and workshops, you may need a substantive editor for putting the scenes and events in the best order. Chances are that you are past this stage and feel the book is ready. Don’t hire a proofreader. That won’t do you much good unless you only want spelling, punctuation, and typos fixed, but a good copy editor will check all these things. You pay once and get the benefit of having any mistake or problem pointed out to you.

copy-editing [1]

Here are some of the things a copy editor will draw your attention to.

  • poorly phrased sentences
  • lack of balance in the sentence (perhaps where the verb at the beginning does not match the clause or phrase you have added onto the main sentence frame)
  • overused words
  • repeated words within two or three sentences
  • incorrect grammar usage
  • incorrect capitalization
  • misuse of possessives and plurals
  • wrong word meaning
  • punctuation mistakes, especially in the use of dialogue
  • typos, missing words, and repeated words (the the)
  • incorrect information (fact checking)
  • consistency throughout the work (does Jane become Jayne later in the work?)
  • misspelled words (breath or breathe, loath or loathe)
  • misuse of homonyms (peek, peak, or pique)
  • incorrect verb tense (lie, lay, laid, lain, etc.)
  • boring repetition of the same sentence pattern
  • incorrect use of pronouns after a preposition (between him and I? or him and me?)
  • use of clichés that are not part of dialogue

These mistakes and many more will be drawn to your attention. It’s well worth spending the time and money to have the errors corrected. A good copy editor will help make your writing shine.